The first stop in IRS officer Virendra Ojha’s home is an open library and the last is a room that has been converted into a classroom. The 1993 batch Income Tax officer from Ahmedabad is on a mission to train Indian youth for civil services regardless of where they are – even if in a tiny, remote village as long as they have an internet connection.
“I grew up in Allahabad jahan bachhe kehlte-khelte civil service exam dete hain, wahan woh ecosystem hai. Growing up, when I finally got into the service I realised that not everyone can come to Delhi, Allahabad or Ahmedabad to pursue it. That’s when I thought about this mission.”
He began by audio-recording his lectures and sending them to his 20 students over voice notes. Today, he has over 20,000 students in more than seven cities. “I have an institute in Allahabad but I teach students from across India through my online sessions.”
Soon after his selection in the civil services, he had started teaching UPSC students. He found a couple of helpful people back in Allahabad who facilitated setting up a coaching class in a 5000-sq ft area. He began with free coaching – called it Margdarshan (guidance) – for the underprivileged with the help of about half-a-dozen like-minded colleagues from civil services. He doesn’t charge a single penny from his students and instead extends monetary help to the needy ones.
Emphasising the importance of women in UPSC, Ojha says he believes more women should take up civil services and get their rightful place in the system.
“The problem with commercial coaching classes is that making money is their primary motive and teaching is secondary to them. Second issue is, most teachers haven’t cleared UPSC exams themselves and so they have little idea of the kind of students who face the severity of the exam. Here, my colleagues who have cracked UPSC teach students and that makes a world of difference.”
When it comes to civil services students in Gujarat, Ojha says: “Students in Gujarat don’t grow up in an environment where they are inspired to pursue civil services, their only focus is business. Currently, I have around 60 students from Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Junagadh and Jamnagar who are trained for the UPSC exam. In Gujarat, SPIPA is doing a commendable job but we still need more quality institutes to develop the culture where students are inspired and are appreciated for civil services. Even the bookstores in Gujarat don’t have enough material for the exam.”
His work progressed when half a dozen colleagues from civil services chipped in. These included his wife Ity Pandey, who is also an IRS officer, KP Singh, IPS, Shishir Srivastava, IRS, Sukriti Madhav Mishra, IPS, Rishabh Shukla, IRS, Adarsh Tiwari, IRS, Mohit Jain, IRS, Shaurya Shashwat Shukla IRS, Rajgopal Sharma, IRS, Manoj Gupta, IRS, motivational speaker Amit Seth besides presentation experts Rachna Tiwari and Anamika Srivastava.
“I have sacrificed everything for my students. I have no social life, I don’t go out. To be fully prepared to teach them, I did intense self-study for a year and a half. Even today I study for at least three hours before recording a session. I wake up at 4 am, I exercise, I write and prepare to teach my students.”
“My message for students is clear: it is not necessary for you to come to cities, you can become a civil servant even if you prepare from your village. In cities, students are taught in a batch of 70-100 students in a class, I believe iss tarah stadium main shiksha nahi di ja sakti. Every student is different and therefore, we mentor them accordingly.” he adds.
What next? “There is a dearth of political literacy in our youth. They are the future and they need to be sharp. I’m preparing to begin a programme for developing political awareness among UPSC students. Politics in India runs on caste, money power and influence and we need to understand the nuances of this harsh reality to fight it.”